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Gun violence prevention advocates wish for more action beyond President Biden's words


The Senate is still trying to find a compromise on guns. As they spent the weekend negotiating, shootings in three cities killed nine and wounded more than 20 people. Tatiana Washington wants to see President Biden take a bigger role in addressing gun violence. She told us that even before the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo and across the country this weekend. She's an organizer with March for Our Lives and was a guest of the first lady at Biden's joint address to Congress during his first year in office. She is back with us today. Tatiana Washington, thanks for coming back on the show.

TATIANA WASHINGTON: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

KELLY: So I know when we spoke to you earlier, you said you were disappointed in Biden's actions, or lack thereof as you saw it, on gun violence. What did you think of his remarks to give a big address to the nation about this just last Thursday?

WASHINGTON: Yeah, you know, definitely happy to hear his remarks, but I think it just feels like talk is cheap and we need action. I think it would have been really nice if President Biden would have encouraged folks to call up their senators and tell them that we need to get a vote on universal background checks because we know, like, once there's applied pressure, we see results. And I think that's something that, like, possibly President Biden missed the mark on. And we're just tired of hearing a lot of words and seeing very little action.

KELLY: What about specifics in terms of what you would like to see him do? I mean, he can use executive action to put limits on guns. What specifically would you like to see him do?

WASHINGTON: It's something that, you know, we at March for Our Lives has been advocating for since he's been in office is to elect a gun violence prevention director and have someone that's, you know, a Cabinet-level member that focuses on gun violence prevention because, again, he doesn't need congressional approval to do that. He can do that right now.

KELLY: In terms of other things that gun control activists, including you, would like to see done, do you believe the president can actually make much difference given how strong the gun lobby is in this country and without legislation from Congress, federal legislation?

WASHINGTON: You know, I think a lot of us are wondering why we aren't seeing a vote on something that 90% of Americans support, which is universal background checks. And so we can see the folks who are with us and who aren't with us, so we can start mobilizing against them. And I think President Biden can encourage folks to do so, to call up their senators. Ninety percent of Americans support universal background checks. Imagine every single person who supports universal background checks called and emailed their senator every single day. That would start to get annoying, right? And applying some public pressure would encourage to bring it to a vote.

KELLY: This weekend, there will be another March for Our Lives, both in Washington and other places in the country, right?

WASHINGTON: Correct. Yes.

KELLY: OK. And this is the second since your organization came together after Parkland and the shooting there in 2018. How are you thinking about this moment?

WASHINGTON: All of our efforts over the last four years from registering our peers to vote to taking on the NRA, I think this moment feels different because instead of lawmakers running from these tragedies and hiding from the NRA, they are reaching across the aisle to find common ground. And I think, you know, when all of us come out and we all march, we are going to show these politicians that we need action and not just cheap talk.

KELLY: Well, you had the first lady's ear when you were her guest at President Biden's address to Congress. If you had his ear right now, what would you lean down and tell him?

WASHINGTON: You know, I think the first thing would be to appoint a director of gun prevention. I think that's something that will save lives. I think also I would hope that President Biden would really encourage our allies in Congress that do support gun violence prevention to apply some pressure. Something that I think will always and, like, forever stick out to me is the late Congressman John Lewis and how he always was willing to fight and encourage folks to get into good trouble. And I would encourage our elected officials to take that route. And it's really time to get into some good trouble and really demand a vote on something that's so simple as a background check. That's the bottom, not the floor (ph). And they will meaningfully reduce gun deaths. And that's something that we just need to see.

KELLY: We've been speaking with Tatiana Washington, an organizer with March for Our Lives. Thank you.

WASHINGTON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
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